10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking with Cult Members – Part 3

Here’s Your Chance

Want to talk to your Mormon friend about the real Jesus? What about the Jehovah’s Witness who knocks on your door? When an opportunity arises, it might be God saying, “Here’s your chance. Take it.” In this series, I’m sharing 10 surprisingly simple tips for talking to cult members.

For this, I’m using Gomes’ theological definition of a cult from Unmasking the Cults: A cult of Christianity is a group of people who say they’re Christians, but actually reject one or more essential doctrines taught in the Bible.

In part one, I introduced the series with my first two tips: Ask, “How much time do you have” and Pray, pray, pray. In part two, I talked about finding common ground and asking 3 strategic questions:

  1. “What do you mean by that?”
  2. “Can you read this out loud?”
  3. “Can you explain that to me?”

Much of this comes from material I learned directly from Kevin Lewis in the M.A. Christian Apologetics Progam at Biola University. Today, I’m finishing up this series of posts with the final four:

Tip #7. Be Honest

Don’t pretend to be an expert on their religious beliefs. And don’t pretend to know things about the Bible that you don’t really know. It’ll be a dead giveaway if your start making stuff up. Kevin Lewis says:

I have been with too many Christians who do theology ex nihilo when faced with a difficult question. This practice indicates a lack sincere reflection on the part of the believer and is a turn off to the one who hears these ad hoc answers.

If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s no problem to say, “I don’t know. But that’s a really good question. Now you’ve really got me curious. Let me look into that and get back to you.”

Tip #8. Avoid Rabbit Trails

Imagine you’re talking with a Jehovah’s Witness. You just made a really good point about Jesus’ divinity while talking about how the New World Translation messes up John 1:1. The cult member comes back with, “Yeah, but why do people who believe in the Trinity become soldiers and murder people in wars?” Recognize the distraction technique. Don’t take the bait. Stick to the topic at hand and ask them if you could come back to their second question later.

Avoid spending time on stuff like celebrating birthdays, saluting the flag or getting blood transfusions. Stay on-message about the person of Jesus and salvation by grace through faith. Spend what little time you have on the essentials of the faith.

Tip #9. Imagine You’re Them

Put yourself in their shoes for a sec. Even if you convince the cult member that her church is lying to her, she’s gonna feel stuck: “Do I trust in the real Jesus and destroy my relationships or stick with the cult that’s lying to me about God?” Imagine you’re them. How would you feel? Just another reason to make sure our hearts are in the right place and that we’re speaking the truth in love.

It takes guts to leave a cult and follow the real Jesus. For many who do, the cult represents their whole life: Friends, family, acquaintances, etc… The cult might even own a lot of their stuff. For example, if you leave the Watchtower, Jehovah’s Witnesses will “disfellowship” you for going “apostate.” Bye bye friends, parents, kids, stability in life, etc…

If your friend’s involved with a cult, let her know you’ll accept her no matter what. She’s got to be sure there’s a safe place to go when the cult leaders figure out she’s not drinking the Kool-Aid anymore.

Tip #10. Show Some Respect

It might sound cliché, but it’s totally true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s pretty tough to convince anyone they need to repent and get humble before God if we get all cocky with them.

Talking down to cult members is a great way to turn them off to the true gospel. But this can be tempting for some Christians who are well-prepared for spiritual discussions. If we think we have all the answers, we can easily fall into the sin of pride and start looking down on the “poor, ignorant cult member.” So do a heart-check before each encounter.

We’ve got to make gentleness and respect a natural part of every conversation. It’s not cool to quote 1 Peter 3:15, but treat verse 16 like a suggestion. It’s not. That whole “gentleness and respect” thing is an essential part of the command. You can’t obey Peter’s command with out the humility of verse 16.

It doesn’t honor God when we act like jerks. We’ve got to study and present the truth—not for the sake of winning arguments or looking smart—but because we love God and love people. As I always say, it’s an obedience thing. It’s a love thing. And when adherents of the cults of Christianity come to a saving faith in the real Jesus, it’s always a God thing.

Why Join a Cult?

Discover the emotional and spiritual reasons people join cults. Find out how cult leaders attract people and who they identify as a potential member. This book will help you spot the cults of Christianity and learn how these groups actually subvert the search for spiritual truth. Alan Gomes was one of my former professors at Talbot School of Theology and he’s friends with Kevin Lewis, too (both mentioned in this post).

Look inside this book on Amazon.com

Note: The royalty fee photos above were taken from stock.xchng. Rabbit: sxc.hu/photo/1282544. Woman: sxc.hu/photo/1288795


3 Responses to “10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking with Cult Members – Part 3”

  1. Don November 21, 2011 9:18 AM

    The tips seem good, but I think you slipped back into the sociological version of cult when you made the “drinking the Kool-Aid” comment.

    How do you interpret 2 John:7-11? I’ve heard many Christians use this passage to either avoid speaking to door knockers or to justify being rude to them.

  2. Apologetics Guy November 23, 2011 10:23 PM

    Hi Don. It was just a figure of speech, but perhaps it caused some confusion in this context. As far as I know, Jim Jones started a church which became the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel, but he also rejected historic Christianity and even claimed to be Jesus!

    Great question. As ambassadors of Jesus, we need to be kind and respectful–never rude (2 Tim. 2:24). Here’s the thing about the passage you mentioned:

    Most 1st-century Christians worshiped in house-churches, and John was just saying, “Don’t let false teachers come into your church, get in the pulpit, and start teaching false doctrine to your congregation.”

    John isn’t contradicting Paul, who said we should gently instruct those who oppose the faith so they might be saved (2 Timothy 2:25-26). Similarly, Peter says we should always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us about the hope that we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).

    Thanks for the comment, Don.


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